Monthly Archives: September 2014

Balancing Act: The Call for a Theology of Women

Dear Pope Francis,

Last week, a speech by actress Emma Watson at the United Nations started floating around the internet. Being a fan of Ms. Watson, I watched out of curiosity. The speech was given as part of the UN’s He for She campaign, to empower both women and men to work for gender equality. She opens with her journey as a feminist and questioning gender-based stereotypes, and goes on to explain the importance of all people working together for change.

As I reflected on this speech, and other’s thoughts about it, I realized again how important it is that you are also calling for a deeper understanding of women, through your call for a theology of women.

feminist stereotypes

Stereotypes associated with feminists

Emma Watson makes an accurate observation when she notes that many women don’t want to identify as a ‘feminist’ because of the social connotations attached: the use of expressions that are “too strong…”, “aggressive, isolating, and anti-men”. I would stretch that say that the whole idea of developing a theology of women makes some people very uncomfortable, myself being one of them, for many of these same reasons.

I am one of those people who choose not to identify as a feminist, even though I agree with women’s rights, precisely because I have issues with some of the stereotypes that go along with the word. Even in theology, I wouldn’t say that I am a ‘feminist theologian’ because many women in this category are painted with the same stereotypes as their secular counter-parts.

It is precisely the presence of these stereotypes that make me glad that it was you, as a Pope, who called for a deeper theology of women. In some way, there is an authority behind this. I realize the fact that you are male and the head of a hierarchical structure probably counts against us on the proverbial feminist scoreboard. Nevertheless, it lends credence to the need because you are in this position of authority.

To the best of my knowledge, you haven’t shared any more thoughts on what exactly this theology of women world or should include, and perhaps that needs to be left to women (and could probably be the topic of another whole letter, or series of letters). However, something that I do know about this theology of women is that it needs to be balanced.

new reality

Juggling a woman’s reality

As Ms. Watson goes on to say in her speech, the He for She campaign is about giving equal voice to all people who are impacted by women’s equality. In much the same way, a theology of women needs to balance both the male-dominated Tradition of the Church with the reality it now seeks to embrace; a reality where women are taking on greater roles, both in the Church and in wider society. It can’t be about bashing the hierarchy, and turning over the Tradition for the sake of equality. Rather, it needs to be about bringing the Tradition into dialogue with the realities women now face. This isn’t something that can be done by one woman, but needs to be done by many. It also isn’t something that can be undertaken by women alone, but by laymen, and priests, and cardinals. You, Pope Francis, got the ball rolling, by saying that it needs to be done!

 

Following the rolling ball,

Lauren

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Living in Martha-Mode

Dear Pope Francis,

Martha and Martha

Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42

Last week, neither Meredith or I posted a single thing, and I’m already a day late in posting this. We’ve both been MIA over the last couple of weeks. When we finally got a chance to catch up last week, the one thing I realized is just how busy we both are! I am currently holding down a few odd jobs while going to school full time. Last night, as I looked at my to do list, I had this overwhelming sense that I am turning into Martha (from the Gospel of Luke, 10:38-42).

I have a natural Martha-disposition. I do things for people. I take great pride in the fact that people can ask me to do things because they know I will get it done. One of the clichéd responses I get when I tell people everything I’m doing is that I need to learn how to say ‘no’. That’s true, sometimes.

Deeper than learning to say ‘no’, is a challenge. Martha’s sister Mary issues me a challenge every time I identify with Martha. Mary challenges me to sit and listen, not only to God in prayer, but to everyone around me. Mary challenges me to sit and be with people, whether I am at school socializing at lunchtime, or whether I am waiting for the slower person to get off the subway ahead of me. I don’t have to talk to people, but to be with them is to be patient with them, to listen to them if they want to talk, and most simply, to realize that crossing things off my to-do list does not trump everything else.

When I fall into this Martha-state I feel as though my soul is being sucked out. Focusing too much on my to-do list prevents me from being with people the way I want to be: being able to listen when someone is struggling, being able to enjoy myself at a community gathering, or simply taking the time to hold the door for the person walking behind me. Focusing too much on my to-do list leaves me cranky, and focused on what everyone is doing to me. This is not generally the way I am, or how I strive to live me life.

Nevertheless, living this way sucks the very joy from my soul, it sucks out the optimism and sometimes, when I’m really in Martha-mode, I lose sight of the big picture, why I’m actually studying, working the odd jobs, and volunteering. These things become the end in themselves: finish the reading as fast as I can so I can get on to the next thing, write this post quickly, so I can get started on Friday’s. Instead, Mary’s challenge asks me to find a new goal, which really isn’t new at all. Mary challenges me to sit and be with God in everything I do, and to realize that being with Him is the goal, whether that’s being patient with the people He created, or offering my study and volunteering as prayer. When I choose this, I know I’m choosing the better thing.

Trying to live this challenge,

Lauren

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Using my Imagination

Dear Pope Francis,

I was recently cleaning out some of the files on my computer, and I stumbled across some documents that I had written before beginning my M.Div. With school starting today, it seemed like an appropriate time to read through them.

What I found was something that I had forgotten all about. It was a ‘day in my life’, written before I had even moved to Toronto. I had used my vivid imagination to ‘watch’ a day in my life as an M.Div. student. The day I described was towards that end of my third year, I was living with two roommates, whom I got along with. I was busy with school and extracurricular activities. Most of it was described in great detail, but definitely imaginative as time has shown that some of the details are inaccurate (such as I have one roommate, not two).

I used this ‘day in my life’ trick before, notably before beginning every year of my undergrad. It helps me to create a concrete image of what I want for my life at the end of a particular time period or endeavour. Even when the details don’t match up exactly, I still find the whole process helpful, because it usually gives me some ideals to shoot for. In this case, it was that I would be involved, as I have always been, but that I would be striking a healthy balance, which I struggle with. I would feel settled where I was, but, after having a (mostly) good time doing my M.Div., I would be ready to look ahead to the next adventure.

I’ve seen this kind of imaginative technique used in other situations, like self-help books, weight loss programs and people expounding the power of positive thinking. Even Ignatian spirituality encourages the use of imagination to place yourself into a Gospel passage, allowing the text to speak to you based on how you insert yourself into the scene.

In some ways, this is another way that we can allow ourselves to become like little children again, which Jesus suggests is important in the life of disciples. Imagination is so often written off as something childish, something which everyone eventually grows out of. Yes, I have grown out of having imaginary friends, but imagination continues to help me connect with where I want to go by creating that reality as vividly as I can before it begins.

Certainly, there are limits to this method; we can’t simply imagine world peace into existence. Maybe it can help us to see new ways we can help bring it about in our own lives by imagining what living peacefully concretely looks like in our own corner of the world. Maybe it helps someone get through a hard time, or empathize by walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Or maybe it allows us to sink in and really connect with a Gospel story that we’ve hear many times before so that it challenges us in a new way.

Another limit, especially when using imagination as I used it before starting my M. Div., is how to know if what we imagine the future to look like is even remotely what God’s plan is. Again, it comes back to those big ideas in the image, rather than the minute details. As I discern, part of the answer often comes as these imaginings, so I have a sense that I will be busy, but what exactly keeps me busy, I don’t know. As I find consolation in the day-to-day discernment, those big concept ideas begin to take shape, even if the concrete image I had isn’t exactly the same as the reality.

If you’re looking for something different in your prayer life, perhaps try the Ignatian practice of inserting yourself into the scripture. Or if you need a little boost of motivation, try picturing what life could be like after you accomplish the goal you’re working on. It might just be the dose of child-like energy we need.

Going to my imagination place,

Lauren

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End of the Challenge: Benefits of Radical Gratitude

pruningDear Pope Francis,

Yesterday marked the end of my 100 Days of Gratitude Challenge. In all honesty, while I was home I didn’t consciously think about the challenge. Getting back to Toronto, I realized how close I was to the end, because I had counted the days on my calendar. I’ve spent the last week reflecting both on my time at home and the challenge.

I was so grateful for my time at home. I didn’t realize just how burnt out I was until I stopped for a while. I saw the people I wanted to see, went where I needed to go and did the things I wanted to do. It’s easy to be grateful when things are good and I’m in a good space, both physically and mentally.

What is more difficult is to be grateful when things aren’t going well, when money is tight, when things are changing faster than you can keep up, when deadlines are looming. It is in these times I need to hang on tight and rely on God. Keeping faith can be hard. I’ve had my fair share of Doubting Thomas moments where I ask for proof of God’s love.

In hindsight, I realized that I did hang on through some tough stuff, and that radical gratitude helped me to hang on. It had to be radical gratitude though, because I am grateful for everything, including the pruning, challenges and change. I’m not grateful for the hard stuff because it made the good stuff even sweeter. I’m grateful for the hard stuff because it makes me stronger. I wouldn’t say that I relish suffering, necessarily, but I am grateful that I was strong enough to persevere, and continue to persevere, in faith.

My time at home was a bit of a reprieve from the stress and general hectic life I have when I’m in the city and in school. It gave me the space both physically and mentally to be able to see the last eight months for what they were, a rough patch in my life, and to name the lessons I learned in that time. I had the opportunity to get new perspectives from friends and family, and to start seriously looking forward.

I had to have an open disposition in order to receive these things, and having a radically grateful outlook helped create this disposition as well. If I had gone home with a chip on my shoulder, and spent the time at home allowing that chip to get deeper, then I would have received something very different from my time there. Instead, having a grateful outlook allowed me to have the openness to listen and learn, both to God in prayer, and the people around me.

Ultimately, this radical gratitude is not something I do for myself. It really is a grace from God. If I had tried to force myself to have the outlook I did, or do the things I do in order to heal, I likely would have ended up jaded and cynical. Instead, I can acknowledge that some things hurt and there was change, but that it was truly God’s plan. He gave me the grace and wisdom to see this. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Enjoying the sunshine,

Lauren

 

PS: For those who also kept up with the challenge, what did you learn? Let us know in the comments below.

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Fall Favourites

Dear Pope Francis,

About a month ago, I expressed my excitement for the coming month. Well August is officially over. Later this afternoon I will be going to the airport and fly back to Ontario. While my month at home was awesome, I really do love the fall. In no particular order here’s what I’m looking forward to:

  1. Cooler weather – I love the warm summer weather, but I love each season in its turn. Now that September is here, I’ll be able to break out the jeans, cardigans, and scarves.
  2. The school community – my school is known for its right knot community, and I often joke that it’s my slice of home in the big city, because when I’m there I can say ‘hi’ to all the people I don’t know (without getting funny looks in return). September brings a bog batch of new students that I can’t wait to meet. It also means the return of many of my school friends, most of whom o haven’t seen since April.
  3. Routine – being home for the last month meant I didn’t really have much of a schedule. What schedule I did have went out the window when my parents were on vacation last week (not that I’m complaining). Meetings this week and classes starting next week mean that I get my routine back (along with posting regularly again). What I find most exciting about this fall is that I’ve been taking time to really discern some routines and habits I want to cultivate.
  4. New seasons of my favourite shows – this is probably the most frivolous item on the list, but I’m psyched nonetheless. I binge-watched Once Upon a Time in June and July and I’ve been anxiously waiting to fins out what happens next. Then of course there’s my old faithful favourite, The Big Bang Theory (although I should probably finish the last season first…)
  5. Fall colours – I love all the colours that explode during the fall. I also love crunching through the leaves after they’ve fallen. There is something so satisfying about the sound they make underfoot

Are you as excited for fall as I am? What are you looking forward to?

Heading for the airport,

Lauren

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